Archery for Beginners: How to Get Started

If you'd like to get into archery as a hobby but you have no idea where to begin, I totally understand where you're coming from: when I started, I felt totally overwhelmed. I was excited to grab a bow and start shooting, but I was confused by all the terms and equipment and specifications. I knew I wanted to dive in, but I had way too many unanswered questions.

That's why I put together this post: as a way of presenting the "big ideas" and introducing you to the sport.

On this page, I'll give an intro to the equipment you'll need, some terms you'll hear a lot, and where you can actually get started.

If you have any questions, leave them below, and I'll answer them when I can. Good luck, and welcome to the incredible art of archery!

First Things First: The Bow​

First up in your "archery for beginners" class is BOWS.

There are two main types of bows: recurve bows and compound bows.

(If you're an experienced archer, I can already hear you arguing with me---yes, there are many types of bows, such longbows, crossbows, composite bows, Japanese yumi bows, and so on. Relax! We'll get there. We're talking in generalities here).

Recurve bows look like this:​

Archery for Beginners

These are the bows you see in the Olympics. They have a sleek, graceful design and they're mostly used for target shooting, although some experienced hunters use them for bow hunting. These are GREAT for newbies, because they're a little simpler than the next type of bow, which is...

Compound bows, which look like this:​

These bows are primarily used for hunting, because they are able to shoot with incredible speed and accuracy. If you look at the top and bottom of the bow, you'll see that there are rounded wheels that hold the draw string. These are called "cams." They are part of a levering system that includes cables and pulleys that allows the bow to multiply (or "compound") the force used to push the arrow forward.

Sound complicated? It is! The compound bow is a technological marvel that was created only recently---they were invented in 1966, and when you consider that we've been bow hunting for thousands of years, that's a pretty recent development.

You don't really need to know about the science of compound bows right now; if you're interested, you can read about that later on.

If you go to an archery range---and we'll talk about ranges in a second---you'll see archers using both types of bow.​

Before we get off the topic of bows, here are some terms you'll hear when you talk about bows:​

  • The Riser. This is the handle of the bow; it's what you hold when you shoot. Risers get complicated, but here's what you need to know right now: the riser features the arrow rest, which is where you place your arrows before drawing. Recurve bows usually have an elevated rest, and compound bows usually have a "whisker biscuit."
  • ​The Limbs. These are attached to the riser; they form the actual bow, with the top limb attached by the bow string to the bottom limb. You'll often hear the term "takedown bow"---this is a bow where you can detach old limbs, and replace them with newer, heavier limbs. Takedown bows are great for beginners, because you can put new limbs on the bow as you develop strength and accuracy.
  • The Bow String. This is the string that connects the top limb to the bottom limb.
  • The Nock Point. This is the spot on the bow string where you place the end of the arrow. The nocking point needs to stay in the same place, so that you can aim and shoot consistently.

If that all seems like a bit much, don't worry about it! You'll understand the details of those terms in no time.

Which Bow Should You Use When You're Starting Out?​

That's up to you! If you're drawn to compound bows, use compound bows; if you like the look of recurve bows, start with a recurve bow. There's no right answer---it's totally up to you, and many archers use both over the course of their lives.

That said... I usually recommend that people start out with a recurve bow, just because they're so much easier to use. There's less equipment involved so they're easier to learn, and they're a great way to learn proper shooting form (and archery is a LOT about form). And, if you want to enter competitions (and eventually make it to the Olympics!) a recurve bow is the way to go. You can start off on a compound---and a lot of people do---but there may be a steeper learning curve, because they're a little more complicated than recurve bows.

One other thing---if you're interested in hunting, don't think that you need to start off with a compound bow. It's actually a little better to start off with a recurve if you're interested in hunting. It'll give you a broader base of knowledge about bows, and all you to build your skills from the ground up, as they say. Plenty of people start on a recurve and then make the switch to compound when they're ready to learn how to hunt.

A Bow Isn't a Bow Without an Arrow​

So we've talked about bows. What about arrows?

There are three main types of arrows: aluminum, carbon, and wood. Each has specific qualities and specific uses:

  • Aluminum Arrows. These are great for beginners, and they can be used by people who shoot from a recurve bow, as well as by people who shoot from a compound bow. If you go to the range, you'll probably see a lot of aluminum arrows.
  • ​Carbon Arrows. These are popular with hunters, and are very popular with people who use compounds bows (although you can also use them with a recurve).
  • Wood Arrows. The original arrow! If you decide to get into traditional archery, you'll learn to love wooden arrows, and eventually you'll learn how to make your own. That's pretty cool. You can use wooden arrows with a recurve bow, but they're more delicate than aluminum and carbon, so you shouldn't use them with a compound bow, because as I mentioned above, compound bows push arrows with incredible force, and wooden arrows can't always withstand the pressure of a compound bow.

Here are some terms you'll probably hear when you're talking about arrows:

  • Arrowhead. This is the pointy part at the front of an arrow. Arrowheads can be different weights (and that's important; I'll talk about that in another post) and different shapes, ranging from very blunt to super, super, super sharp.
  • Shaft. This is the length of the arrow.
  • Fletching. These are the vanes on an arrow; sometimes they're made of feathers (this is good for target practice) and sometimes they're made of plastic (and this is good for hunting). Usually, there's one vane on the arrow that's a different color than the other two vanes, and that's called the index vane.
  • Nock. This is the back bifurcated end of the arrow, that fits into the bow string.

Believe it or not, arrows are one of the more complicated aspects of archery, because every archery company that makes arrows has different weighting systems, measuring systems, and so on. But, if you're raring to go, I've written a post about the best arrows for beginners, and you can check that out here.

Where You Can Get a Bow and Arrow​

There are pro shops all over the United States and Canada, and most carry hundreds and hundreds of different archery products. Some pro shops have salespeople who know what they're talking about, although sadly, some pro shops have salespeople who have no idea what they're talking about, and are just trying to sell you stuff. It's wise to read up on archery before you go to a pro shop, so you can tell the difference between a good salesperson and a salesperson who doesn't know his head from a hole in the ground.

You can buy archery supplies online---Amazon has a huge selection of bows, arrows, and various equipment pieces---and you can also buy directly from certain archery equipment companies.

So, you've got the option of pro shops and online retailers. However, if you're not ready to buy a bow, you can simply go to the range---have I discussed ranges yet? No? I'll get to that in a minute---and you can rent your bows and arrows there. For beginners, that's a GREAT option, because it can be difficult to tell what size bow you need, the type of arrows, and so on. When you show up to the range, they'll give you exactly what you need, and you can jump in head first.

If You Can't Wait to Get Started and Want to Buy a Bow Right Now​

If you're looking for your first bow, I recommend the Samick Sage Takedown Recurve Bow, which I discuss here. It's sold here.​

It's a FANTASTIC bow, and it's the first bow I bought. It's simple yet powerful, and you can dress it down and keep things simple, or you can get fancy and add bow sights, silencers, plungers, stabilizers, and so on. Those are advanced equipment pieces that I discuss in this post here.

The Samick Sage is kind of an industry standard when it comes to beginner bows---it's recommended by people everywhere, and I've only rarely heard a bad word said about it.

Archery Ranges: The Easiest Way to Get Started​

The easiest way to get hands-on experience and professional guidance is to go to your nearest archery range. Many ranges require you to take an introductory safety class (here's an example), where you'll quickly learn the proper way to hold a bow, draw, aim, and so on. You'll be amazed at what a single session will do you for you---you'll walk into the range a novice, and you'll walk out of the range... well, you'll still be a novice, but you'll probably have hit a few bulls eyes and you'll feel pretty great about yourself.​

Plus---here's the true value of a range: they'll give you the equipment you need to shoot for a few hours. They'll allow you to rent a bow that fits your size specifications, give you arrows that match the bow, and place a target at the appropriate distance. That alone is worth the price of admission, because choosing equipment when you're a beginner can be quite difficult (and, you guessed it: I wrote a post about how to choose equipment here).

So where is your nearest range? Luckily, there's a fantastic site that has a state-by-state index of range locations. Archery 360 is a site run by the Archery Trade Association, and they have a terrific database of archery ranges in every state. Their page here will tell you the closest archery stores and ranges near your house.​

If you do get involved in archery, the range will become your favorite place. Not only will you have access to archery leagues and some amazing classes (the range near me has a axe-throwing class---how cool is that?), you will you meet like-minded people who can teach you a lot about target shooting and hunting. For many people, the range starts out as a place to learn, and quickly becomes a place to hang out with friends.

On-Your-Own Learning​

If you catch the bug and want to learn as much as you can about archery, there are some fantastic sites dedicated to archery that you can visit. The best one is: this one, obviously! I've tried to create a site that truly helps beginners go from 100% green to capable archers, so if you have any feedback on how I can make this site better, I'd love to hear it---jump over to my "Contact" page and send me a note.

There are other sites, of course, and some are pretty darn fantastic. Here are some of my favorites:

Archery 360. I mentioned these guys above. This is the closest thing to an online archery magazine out there. It's got some excellent how-to videos, interviews with pros and Olympians, and magazine-style articles about topics of interest (ie, "Five Epic Spots for Archers Who Love to Travel" and "10 Archery Costumes We Love").​

NUSensei's videos on YouTube, located here. NUSensei truly loves the sport of archery, and has dozens of in-depth, helpful videos about equipment, form, and style. Plus, he's got a great sense of humor, and that makes a huge difference, because there are some very, very dry archery teachers out there. Fun Fact: NUSensi has a goal of attending the 2020 Olympics, and has kept a strict training regimin to get him there. Go, NUSensei! We're rooting for you.​

The "Archery" subreddit at Reddit.com. Yes, there are some archery snobs there, but very few---the overwhelming majority of folks in the community are super-nice and super-helpful. It's updated every day, and it's definitely worth a visit.​

Last Thing---What About Kids?​

A *lot* of the visitors to this site are parents, and that is AWESOME. Archery is an incredible parent-and-child sport, and I'm glad you're here.

Here are the #1 and #2 questions I get from parents who visit my site: Can my kids get involved in archery, and is it safe?​

Question #1: Absolutely! There are many, many kids who learn archery at a young age, and there are actually leagues kids can join. JOAD (Junior Olympic Archery Development) is a program for kids 8 to 20, and has programs in every state in the U.S. I've written a post about getting kids involved in archery, and you can find that here.​

Question #2: Archery can be safe AS LONG AS THERE IS A PARENT OR GUARDIAN AROUND, WHO KNOWS WHAT HE/SHE IS DOING, AND IS PAYING CLOSE ATTENTION.

I gave you the old "full caps" treatment there, because I want to be very clear: archery can be a safe sport for kids, but they NEED PROPER SUPERVISION (I just went full caps again; sorry).

Archery is a hobby, but a bow and arrow is not a toy---it is a weapon, and it can fatally harm the user or people around the user.

So, yes---archery can most definitely be a safe and rewarding sport for kids, but only when proper safety rules are followed.

You're Off to a Good Start​

So now you know about the two main types of bows, a little bit about arrows, the benefits of a range, and where you can learn more as you develop your skills. You should be excited---you're off to a great start!

If you're ready for more, I'd suggest you read about proper shooting technique or how to buy your first bow.

Thanks for stopping by! :)​

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